Why the Oberlin Watch Company?

Why the Oberlin Watch Company?

Oberlin Ohio is known for many reasons - one of the final stations on the Underground Railroad, a well regarded college and conservatory of music, and perhaps one of the prettiest small towns you'll ever visit.  

"Luck is the residue of design" - Branch Rickey (and possibly John Milton)

I would love to tell a fantastic story about "the founding of the Oberlin Watch Company". And unlike a few brands out there who spin lavish creation myths, I've decided to give it to you straight. The Oberlin Watch Company is the outcome of a small project for friends and family that was shared with various social media groups and took on a life of its own. An article in the Chronicle Telegram, the local areas paper of record pushed it out into the open, and it would seem that we are officially a (small) watch company.  

But beyond being my hometown, Oberlin is (believe it or not) fairly important in watch and timekeeping history. Oberlin is 5 miles from the site of one of the worst transportation accidents of its time, in what has become known as the Great Kipton Train Wreck - https://postalmuseum.si.edu/node/2072. Back before cell phones, computers and electronic signals, trains were dependent upon fairly precise schedules as stations often used the same shared tracks for trains both entering and departing.  On April 18, 1891 the fast mail train #14 collided with the Toledo Express; in the investigation that followed, it was determined that one of the engineer's watches on the fast mail train was running four minutes slow, having stopped and then restarted. Nine people lost their live. As a result a new emphasis was put on time-keeping on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad, with Cleveland jeweler and watch maker Webb Ball creating a standard for the train networks to ensure that all watches used by the railroad crews would maintain accurate time to within 30 seconds.

And the name Oberlin for many watch obsessed collectors in France is synonymous with what has mistakenly been assumed to be an actual Oberlin Watch Company -


I was surprised to learn about these OBERLIN watches when a colleague from France asked me if I was "reviving" an old French watch brand.  After some further research, I learned that there had never been an Oberlin Watch Company, but there had indeed been an Oberlin watch!  The watch was made by a watch manufacturer in Besançon, France for the Oberlin Pharmaceutical Company!  The watches were given to doctors and pharmacists (I am assuming) as promotional items.

One last little fun factoid - Mark Twain was an investor in a watch company -


Okay, so what's that got to do with Oberlin? Twain wrote The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg -

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_That_Corrupted_Hadleyburgwhich is believed to be about Oberlin, Ohio and inspired by the less than warm reception he received from the college when he visited to present three of his stories.

But in truth, these are all somewhat curious coincidences, and nothing I claim to be the true inspiration for the watch. That inspiration was simply to make something for friends from my hometown that would remind them of where they were from, no matter where they later found themselves.